Eva Figes Kathryn Sutherland - Essay

Kathryn Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Sex and Subterfuge: Women Novelists to 1850] is a book of fashion rather than of substance;… it is difficult to sympathise with its vague pioneering spirit and lack of critical direction. Ms Figes provides a roughly chronological survey of the novel written by and about women during a particularly fertile period of seventy or so years up to 1850, and she begins with a strong assertion: 'If there is such a thing as the classical novel in English literature, and I think there is, then women were responsible for defining and refining it'…. But when she comes to defend this bold thesis the thinness of her research is at once obvious, and her critical framework degenerates into a series of unhelpful and naive remarks. (p. 90)

These are not fresh ideas, and Ms Figes is content to follow them along well-trodden paths. There is no consideration of the many lesser known and forgotten women novelists whose works poured off the presses in the last thirty years of the eighteenth century…. Ms Figes is most assured in dealing with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Her readings of Jane Austen, particularly Mansfield Park, are humourless and overschematised. Some large and potentially interesting statements are made … but, in the absence of a substantial context and rigorous specific analyses, they remain rather stale generalisations. The book in no way fulfils its ambitious claims. (p. 91)

Kathryn Sutherland, in a review of "Sex and Subterfuge: Women Novelists to 1850," in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 3, Autumn, 1982, pp. 90-1.